The average person earning minimum wage has to work 79 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment

McDonald's fight for $15 wage
An employee of McDonald’s protests outside a branch restaurant for a raise in their minimum wage to $15 an hour, in Fort Lauderdale on May 19, 2021. Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images
  • Rent is unaffordable for the average minimum-wage earner in the US, according to a recent report.
  • Though the Fight for $15 has gained traction, $15 an hour often isn’t enough to afford housing.
  • Low-wage workers will continue to struggle after the pandemic ends.

For the nation’s minimum-wage workers, even working two full-time jobs sometimes isn’t enough to afford rent, according to a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The average minimum-wage worker would have to work 79 hours a week to afford a modest one-bedroom rental and 97 hours a week to afford a modest two-bedroom rental, hours that would be difficult for a single person and nearly impossible for single parents.

“People who work 97 hours per week and need 8 hours per day of sleep have around 2 hours per day left over for everything else – commuting, cooking, cleaning, self-care, caring for children and family, and serving their community,” the report stated. “Even for a one-bedroom rental, it is unreasonable to expect individuals to work 79 hours per week to afford their housing. For people who can work, one full-time job should be enough.”

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and hasn’t increased in over a decade. Though the Fight for $15 – a nationwide campaign to raise the minimum wage – has gained momentum with some major companies and states instituting $15 minimum wages, even a $15 hourly wage isn’t enough to lead a comfortable life.

According to the report, an individual would have to earn $20.40 an hour to afford the average modestly priced one-bedroom rental and $24.90 for a two-bedroom apartment, without spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

“Stable, affordable housing is a prerequisite for basic well-being, and no family should live in danger of losing their home,” the report stated.

In more expensive housing markets, workers must earn even more to afford rent. In New York state, where the average housing wage is $34.03 an hour, an Amazon employee making $19.30 an hour in New York City has lived in her car since 2019 because she can’t find affordable permanent housing.

Although wages overall jumped during the pandemic as businesses struggled to fill open positions, salaries for people already in the workforce didn’t go up. Even pre-pandemic economic conditions were difficult for low-wage workers, and the report predicts that workers will struggle even more now to pay off debt accumulated during the pandemic.

“Even if economic recovery is robust and sustained, low-wage workers will continue to struggle.”